Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.


PayPal CSO: Phishing Threat Overstated

Chief security officer at one of phishers' favorite targets says phishing isn't among the top five threats to his company's bottom line

SAN FRANCISCO -- RSA Conference -- Estimates of phishing’s impact on businesses may be exaggerated, according to the CISO at one of phishers’ most frequently-targeted companies.

Michael Barrett, chief information security officer at PayPal -- eBay's online payment service and popular target of phishers -- says that despite the storm of fake emails received by his company's 133 million customers, the company's actual losses from phishing are relatively low.

"Financially, phishing is not a terribly significant problem for us -- in fact, it's not even in the top five" threats that could cause losses at the financial services company, Barrett said in an interview here earlier today. "In fact, I suspect that many of the published figures on phishing's impact are significantly overestimated, probably by an order of magnitude."

PayPal is not taking the phishing threat lightly, however. Barrett estimates that as much as a third of his average day is spent focusing on phishing-related security issues, but it is important to keep the threat in context. "For us, the danger from ordinary credit card fraud is significantly greater," he says. "It's not as sexy as phishing, but that's the reality."

Many reports suggest that PayPal and its parent company, eBay, are among most frequently-spoofed sites on the Web, if not the most frequently spoofed sites. Those reports have led PayPal to roll out a new, optional VeriSign-based token that generates a random code to supplement the customer's username and password. The tokens, which cost $5 for individual users, will be activated later this month.

"We don't think this [token] is the be-all and end-all for us," says Barrett. "For one thing, it just isn't affordable for us to issue these tokens to all of our 133 million users." PayPal is considering other strategies for multi-factor authentication that may be offered in the future, he says.

The arrival of enhanced validation SSL (EV SSL), which is being demonstrated by CyberTrust and VeriSign here at the show, may also help users to recognize phishers, Barrett says. "We believe that users who use more modern browsers experience fewer problems," he says. "Anything that's added to the browser to help users recognize that they are being phished is a plus for us."

PayPal also is studying the correlation between a user's choice of ISPs and the incidence of phishing, Barrett says. "Clearly, one of the ways to reduce phishing is to reduce the number of phishing emails -- spam -- that the end user receives," he observes. "And the fact is that while some [ISPs] are doing very well with spam controls, others are hardly doing anything." In the future, PayPal may recommend some specific ISPs that are doing an especially good job stopping spam, he says.

Although PayPal and phishing have been closely linked in the media, Barrett says he spends most of his time doing humdrum tasks delegated to most other CSOs. "It's the usual stuff -- managing policy and enforcing it." PayPal is looking closely at the latest round of Trojan exploits, which could potentially be more deadly than any phishing attack, he says.

"Phishing is something we watch closely, but for most users, there's a simple solution: Don't click on URLs you find in email," Barrett says. "As a company, we're in the process of eliminating all embedded links in our emails, and there's no reason why a user should ever have to click on those links. It's a convenience, but it's not worth the risk."

— Tim Wilson, Site Editor, Dark Reading

  • Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one ... View Full Bio

    Comment  | 
    Print  | 
    More Insights
  • Comments
    Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
    7 Old IT Things Every New InfoSec Pro Should Know
    Joan Goodchild, Staff Editor,  4/20/2021
    Cloud-Native Businesses Struggle With Security
    Robert Lemos, Contributing Writer,  5/6/2021
    Defending Against Web Scraping Attacks
    Rob Simon, Principal Security Consultant at TrustedSec,  5/7/2021
    Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
    White Papers
    Cartoon Contest
    Write a Caption, Win an Amazon Gift Card! Click Here
    Latest Comment: Take me to your BISO 
    Current Issue
    2021 Top Enterprise IT Trends
    We've identified the key trends that are poised to impact the IT landscape in 2021. Find out why they're important and how they will affect you today!
    Flash Poll
    How Enterprises are Developing Secure Applications
    How Enterprises are Developing Secure Applications
    Recent breaches of third-party apps are driving many organizations to think harder about the security of their off-the-shelf software as they continue to move left in secure software development practices.
    Twitter Feed
    Dark Reading - Bug Report
    Bug Report
    Enterprise Vulnerabilities
    From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
    PUBLISHED: 2021-05-10
    In YzmCMS 5.6, XSS was discovered in member/member_content/init.html via the SRC attribute of an IFRAME element because of using UEditor
    PUBLISHED: 2021-05-10
    In YzmCMS 5.6, stored XSS exists via the common/static/plugin/ueditor/ action parameter, which allows remote attackers to upload a swf file. The swf file can be injected with arbitrary web script or HTML.
    PUBLISHED: 2021-05-10
    Cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerability in static/admin/js/kindeditor/plugins/multiimage/images/swfupload.swf in noneCms v1.3.0 allows remote attackers to inject arbitrary web script or HTML via the movieName parameter.
    PUBLISHED: 2021-05-10
    Cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerability in admin/nav/add.html in noneCMS v1.3.0 allows remote authenticated attackers to inject arbitrary web script or HTML via the name parameter.
    PUBLISHED: 2021-05-10
    Cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerability in admin/article/add.html in noneCMS v1.3.0 allows remote authenticated attackers to inject arbitrary web script or HTML via the name parameter.